From the Lockup: Never Happen
A Cop's Eye
View from Charles Shafer.
You're settled in for the evening, and your favorite cop show
comes on TV. In the opening scene, a murder suspect is sitting
in a cubbyhole of a room, his attorney at his side. A couple
of homicide detectives are leaning close, taking turns at saying
stuff like, "We know you robbed that grocery store. Killed
the cashier. We've got the gun, two eyewitnesses, so you better
confess or they're gonna stick a needle in your arm. Put you
to sleep. Forever like." A prosecuting attorney is standing
in the corner with a big smirk on his face.
The murderer wipes his sweaty brow with his handcuffed hands
and leans over to his attorney. They whisper a few lines and
the attorney nods. The murderer looks up at the homicide dicks
and blubbering, says, "You gotta gimme a break. I didn't
mean it. Puleeeze."
Entertaining? You bet. Only one problem. Every cop from Chicago
to Peking is falling over laughing. Because . . . Never happen.
First off, no cop interrogates a suspect with his attorney
present. The attorney shows up, end of story. They either charge
the guy or let him go, because no way is his lawyer going to
let him say zero, zilch, zip. And the suspect in handcuffs.
Nope. Never, but ever, will a cop handcuff a suspect with
his hands in front. Those cuffs are made of hardened steel, and
cuffed like that the suspect is armed with a deadly weapon. Besides,
US courts have ruled that interrogating a handcuffed suspect,
front or back, is a form of coercion, and anything he says will
be inadmissable in a court of law.
Both cops going at the suspect at the same time. Doesn't work
that way and here's why. One dick might be trying to find out
where the suspect hid stolen goods. The other's concerned with
identifying an accomplice. Just when one man is getting somewhere,
the other asks a question off topic and the suspect, instead
of sweating out what's important, answers the other detective,
and is off the hook.
And giving the suspect a break. Can't. Only the prosecuting attorney
Which brings up another point. Very often you'll see the prosecuting
attorney questioning the suspect. Not a good idea, at least until
the detective has the case entirely nailed down. This because
most prosecutors are not good interrogators, and one wrong word
could trigger the suspect to clam up. If so, that's it, you're
So now the detectives take a break and walk into their office.
One guy's a lieutenant and collapses into the easy chair behind
at his desk, looking dejected out a picture window. The other's
a sergeant, and he slams his fist against the wall, yelling,
"Dammit, we gotta get this guy. I'm going back in there,
beat it outta him." Eyes bulging, lips quivering.
But sorry, because . . . Never happen.
Detectives, hell, all cops, can't afford to let themselves
get personally involved in their cases. They do, they'll be on
a heart-monitoring machine in no time. Okay, you might see a
guy like that here and there, but not for long. He'll never last.
Anyway, nobody will want to work with him because he's a loose
cannon, just waiting to go off. Screw up every case he works
And a detective having his own office. With a picture window,
no less. Reminds me of last night's episode of NYPD Blue. A new
dick is assigned to the squad, and somebody says, "Take
that desk there, cause the guy who had it won't be back."
Laughable. No big city detective gets a desk of his own. Matter
of fact, what desk? Chicago detectives work in one large room,
with tables spread around, old beat up typewriters and computers
at the ready. As ready as they get anyway. Twenty or more detectives
on each shift, shuffling in and out, trying to find time to do
And lieutenants, sergeants, doing interrogations. Ha! CPD's
Detective Division has lieutenants and sergeants all right, but
they're supervisors and never leave the office. A lot of them
haven't spent day one as a street detective. Got their nice desk
job because they're heavyweights, got a rabbi downtown, know
the right guy, whatever you want to call it.
Here's something I myself didn't know until just the other
day, when I sat down with Detective Ed Dickinson of the Chicago
Police's Violent Crime Section. They separate homicides into
two categories. Killings and murders. Killings are when, say,
one gangbanger knifes another over what corner they can sell
drugs. Get it, one scumbag "Killing" another. The detectives
will work that kind of case just as vigorously as any. But should
they not be able to make a case, or even if they do, and lose
in court-no big deal, because the killer's going to get his sooner
or later anyway. Probably by the friends of the gangbanger he
Then there's the innocent shop owner who gets shot dead by
some robber. That's plain, flat out murder, and any cop is naturally
going to make sure he has his man dead bang, so when they go
to court, he gets the maximum. They lose, it hurts.
Never saw that depicted on TV, have you? Me, either.
Okay, so back to our homicide detectives. Some slick-looking
private eye shows up, tells the cops he's been working on the
same case and knows where an accomplice is hiding. A third-floor
flat. "Great," the detectives say, and with the private
eye tagging along, jump in their car and take up surveillance
across the street, watching. They see the wrongdoer through the
window, moving around, and decide to go in after him. As always,
one detective goes around back and waits until the other kicks
in the front door. The wrongdoer grabs his gun and starts shooting.
Both cops return fire and shoot the guy dead. Seconds later an
army of cop cars come screaming up, disco lights flashing, sirens
blaring. They all run into the flat with guns at the ready.
You see it on TV maybe twice a week, every week of the year.
Exciting. Got you on the edge of your seat. Me, too.
Except . . . Never happen.
I served 28 years on the Chicago PD, mostly as a detective.
Not once did I so much as receive a telephone call from a private
eye. Never heard of it either. But say it happened, for TV's
sake. At best, the detectives would thank the guy and send him
on his way. No chance they'd take him with. They have enough
to worry about without some dude at their side, not knowing what
he's worth if things get tight. At worst, they'd stick the guy
in a cage until they can check his story out. Thoroughly.
The surveillance. Come on, when you see a couple of detectives
set up directly in front of their target's house, don't you ask
the TV screen, "Hey, can't the bad guy see you guys? I mean
he's desperate, gotta be on the lookout."
"Hell, yeah," would be the answer if your boob tube
could talk. Cops set up a surveillance, you can bet they're going
to make sure the suspect can't detect them. Probably get a least
a block down, because every wrongdoer and his uncle can spot
an unmarked police car like it's their grandma's chocolate chip
One cop goes around the back, the other up the front.
One? Are they nuts? They've got all the time in the world,
so get at least two, probably four more men to help. Take as
much time as it takes to plan out an attack, make sure everybody
knows what to do. Preferably uniform men will be requested, because
they're easily identifiable, don't have to worry about innocent
bystanders thinking you're home invaders, taking pot shots at
you. And when going through the door, you don't have to yell
such crap as, "Chicago Police! Don't anybody move!"
And kicking in the door. What a joke! Tell you what, pick
out any door you'd like and see if you can kick it in. Especially
with one blow, like on TV.
(By the way, I can't help but stop off here and mention the
thief who sticks a credit card in a door jam, twists the knob,
and in he goes. Go ahead, try it. I only hope you haven't locked
yourself out beforehand. And any ladies who might be reading
-- you just did the old man a favor, because you won't be using
that card again!!)
Back to our heroes, now in a heated gun battle with the wrongdoer.
Firstly, cops from both the back and front doors would not
be shooting for fear of hitting each other. Only those going
through the front will do the shooting. And then only if they
have to. Cops don't like gun battles. Somebody can get hurt.
Maybe them, which is not acceptable. That's what planning is
Oh, and sometimes that TV cop is a nice guy and wings the
wrongdoer in the shoulder, maybe the leg, because he doesn't
want to kill the guy.
Know what? Almost any cop will tell you it's a terrible thing
to have to kill someone, but when the bullets start flying, forget
about it. You pick out a target, shoot, and hope to put down
whomever is shooting back. For good. And afterwards, you might
have to change your drawers, because unlike Bert Reynolds and
Clint Eastwood, you're scared out of your pants.
Or the army of cop cars screaming up, disco lights flashing,
sirens blaring. We've all seen it on TV, the cops jumping out,
racing up the stairs, guns at the ready. Always been a laugh
amongst real cops, because why, after the shooting's over, would
newly arriving cops be in a hurry?
Next scene, and a dozen cops are standing over the dead wongdoer.
The detectives tell the uniform men, "Okay, take him to
the morgue. See ya later," and bingo, we're switched to
a local tavern. Our heroes at the bar, having a beer, talking
over the day's events.
Yeah, you got it . . . Never happen.
A detective tells the uniform men to clean up, they'll tell
him right back, "Hey, pal. Clean up your own mess."
And before the body is moved -- before anything is touched,
everybody stands back, waits for evidence technicians to arrive.
The entire scene will have to be photographed, evidence collected
and preserved. Might take hours.
That's okay though, because they're also waiting for Internal
Affairs to show. Whenever a cop fires his weapon, Internal Affairs
has to make an on scene investigation. In most departments all
cops involved will have to give up their guns for testing, to
see exactly who shot where and what. Then there's paperwork to
be completed. Tons of it, including signed statements by all
involved cops, to justify firing their weapons. Takes hours.
And this can be grueling, because the way civil lawyers are today,
the cops might end up getting sued for their actions. Okay, so
99 percent of those suits are thrown out, but think of the real
cop, worrying about his career, his family, and know another
reason why he'd rather not have had to shoot in the first place.
One more truth that needs to be told. TV depicts detectives
as heroes, doing all the dangerous work, and their uniform counterparts
as necessary assistants.
Just the opposite. Detectives investigate crime, and pick
the time and place to make an arrest so it's on their own terms.
Give themselves every advantage. Rarely put themselves in jeopardy.
Not that they should, but take the uniform cop, who gets a radio
call such as, "Man with a gun." He has to respond.
Now! And at whatever set of circumstances that arise.
Now that's danger!
All this said, I must add that a lot of the cop shows are
entertaining. I polled some cop buddies, and Homicide, Life
On The Street, seemed to top the list. Law and Order,
is also liked. NYPD Blue, not so much, because it's more
a soap opera, dealing with the characters' lives, rather than
Cracker, the old UK show, was one of my favorites,
though I've never heard of a psychologist working with cops.
Well, yeah, maybe I have. Trying to clean out the mush between
their ears after dealing with the scum of the earth day in and
This piece originally appeared
retired from the Chicago PD after 28 years, 25 as a detective.
His short fiction and articles have appeared world wide, in such
magazines as Crime Time, Crime Factory, Mystery Scene, and Murderous
Intent, along with the web zine, Blue Murder. His first novel,
On Cabrini Green, was published by Crime Time Publishing
in 2000. His second, Chicago Stretch, will be released
summer, 2003 by Hilliard and Harris.
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